Saturday, February 4, 2012

K-Drama Review: My Name is Kim Samsoon, Episodes 1-2

Contains Spoilers for Episodes 1-2

Kim Samsoon hates her name. It's old-fashioned (comparable to Bertha, Mildred, or Agnes in English) it sounds odd, and it has a negative meaning which she'd like to escape. Samsoon is almost thirty years old, and despite being a first-class baker after studying in France, she feels like a total zero. Her longterm boyfriend cheated on her at Christmas, she lost her job, and her future prospects for work and marriage don't look so great.

After Samsoon's sudden heartbreak over discovering her guy cheating, she slips into a hotel bathroom stall to weep and wail out her frustrations--but it's the men's restroom. Jin Heon (played by Hyun Bin) interrupts her caterwauling to point out that she's hiding out in the wrong bathroom. Cue embarrassment all around. Then a flashback shows that Jin Heon was paying attention to her dramatic breakup in the hotel dining room instead of paying attention to his own beautiful but super-dull date. These two people never expect to run into each other again, but Jin Heon owns a French restaurant and quickly finds himself in need of a new pastry chef. Craziness ensues when messy, unstylish, offbeat Samsoon steps into the kitchen and changes life for everyone, especially her sardonic boss.

I started watching this show for three reasons:

1. Hyun Bin.
2. Everyone said it was the best K-drama ever (it's in several Top Five Best lists).
3. Hyun Bin. Sorry, I'm biased. Ever since Secret Garden, he's been my favorite K-drama actor, eclipsing the other contenders. But this show winds up being more than just a vehicle to see a charismatic lead actor--it's about one woman's struggle to reinvent herself and succeed on her own terms. So viewers may tune in for the handsome guys (Daniel Henney is the second lead, even), but they'll stick around for the great portrayal of the issues faced by modern women.

At Left: The Initial Draw. At Right: The Show's Heart and Soul.

Things I Loved: 1. The music. I seriously love this soundtrack. While the soundtracks to some K-dramas kill me because they'll play comedic music during romantic moments (Flower Boy Ramyun Shop) or play romantic music during fight scenes (Boys Over Flowers), the music here always makes you notice the comedy, like when syrupy Christmastime jazz plays as Samsoon stalks her ex or when fierce violins erupt into a classical flourish during a pool scene. The music sets the mood for the show and says "Don't get too serious, audience. You're going to love this and it's all going to turn out okay."

Episode one opens with Samsoon manically running down a hallway and hiding while Nat King Cole's warm classic "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" plays, which totally changes the mood. Later, Samsoon and Jin Heon are hanging out together while "Are You Lonesome Tonight" by Elvis plays, but the song is like an ironic echo, because these two are not lonesome but they're not happy with each other, either. I guess what I enjoy the most about the songs is that they're American standards--I immediately start laughing when I hear them, because I pick up on the intentional contrast between the lyrics and the scenes they play over.

Vengeful, Yet Inconspicuous. Merry Christmas.

2. The comedy. The timing and the comic beats in this show are killer. The fantasy sequences where Samsoon imagines what she'd like to say, but then snaps back to reality, are grand. Because we all do this in our own minds. We tell people off and stalk and flounce, and then we shift back to the real world and do the right thing, which is what Samsoon inevitably does. I especially enjoy super goofy moments like Samsoon singing the Korean version of "It's Raining Men" at noraebang (karaoke) and just absolutely going to town with the song, or the snort-worthy scenes after she wins a giant teddybear-pig thing (a teddypig?) and insists on carrying it to dinner.

This Pig May Be My Only True Ally in Life.

3. Jin Heon. As I've said before, I like the actor better than the character, but the character has plenty of interesting points. Jin Heon goes on dates arranged by his mother, but sabotages them because he doesn't want to be there. He tries for insulting banter with his dates, perhaps hoping that someday someone will call him on it and dish back as good as they get--but nope. His dates either adore him anyway, or get fed up with his pettiness and throw water at him. Samsoon is the first person to really call him out for his rudeness, so their dynamic is good for him. I also like his relationship with his mother, Chairwoman Na, who is fussy and demanding (but not mean!) and who bickers with her son just for fun.

Complaints: 1. Samsoon. I think I'm utterly alone in feeling kind of put-off by this character, because everyone seems to love her.  I find her voice annoying because she doesn't seem to enunciate any of her words--but this is definitely the character's issue, not the actress', because I've heard Kim Sun-Ah herself in other shows, and her voice sounded pleasant and fine. Normally, I fall for the heroine right away, but Samsoon took a while to grow on me. I wholeheartedly sympathize with her circumstances, though.

It's Not Her, It's Me...


Themes: Trauma. Jin Heon can't drive because he's scared of being at the wheel, for reasons as yet unknown. Car trauma seems to be a common trope in K-dramas. I've seen many, many characters who either can't drive or can't ride in cars because of their past traumas.

The Comfort of Love. In the beginning of Ep. 1, Samsoon is crying not because she misses her unfaithful boyfriend (HyunWoo is an unprincipled lout!) but because she misses loving and being loved. This show is actually rather practical about love--it's not entirely some mystical force that happens to hit two people at once. It's a basic human need that we all want to have met.

Everybody Needs Somebody Sometimes!

Joking/Seriousness: Jin Heon pulls a prank on Samsoon by ruining her special date with another guy, but he fails to see that the date is very important to Samsoon, because he views everything in the romantic realm as a joke. Samsoon is broken hearted that Jin Heon may have ruined a potential match for her, and she goes so far as kicking him and refusing to speak to him in retaliation. Basically, Jin Heon is rich enough to afford his little emotional games, but Samsoon doesn't have the luxury of toying with people. She's dead serious about finding love and finding a husband.

Cultural Observances:

Plastic surgery: Korea has a reputation for having the highest rate of plastic surgeries of any nation in the world. Numbers-wise, America gets more plastic surgery, but Korea's percentage of citizens getting cosmetic surgery is nearly double America's stats. Plastic surgery is mentioned several times just in the first two episodes of MNKISS. Samsoon insists that she has never had surgery, and at one point Jin Heon asks his dull date where she got her rather obvious facial surgeries.

Namsan Tower: Jin Heon and Samsoon ride in the aerial cable cars near the famous Namsan Tower.

Just Don't Look Down.

New words: "Kure" means "okay" or "sure". 

Translation note: Partway through episode one, I didn't feel like the sub translations I was getting were accurate--it just seemed like some of the facial expressions of the actors weren't matching with the tone of the dialogue I was reading. I switched to another type of English-subbed video, and the language was suddenly much clearer and wittier. So if you're ever watching a foreign TV show, consider shopping around for a new sub if the wording on the subtitles isn't clicking with you. The right translator makes all the difference.

Episode Evaluations: I don't love the heroine, but I love the story so very much. I'm just all up in this writing, because it seems like something great is waiting to spring out of every corner of the story. I'm not reviewing the rest of the episodes of My Name is Kim Samsoon, but the whole thing is worth seeing, in my opinion.


  1. Samsoon's about my favorite K-drama heroine, actually. This one definitely deserves it's place on all those top five lists.

  2. Hyun Bin!!!!!!! Ahem...I may be a little biased too xD But really Hyun Bin aside this does sound like a very interesting drama!

  3. Just wait... it gets better!
    I think it's the weight that she put on esp in her face that affects her speech. (I could be making ish up... but it sounds good, no? lol.)
    And when Mr Cutie Doctor comes in. mmhmm. Not much role, but I love him.

  4. I love that you review K-dramas. I used to watch them all the time! After having kids, it's a lot harder to but it will be nice to check out your reviews to see if there any ones I should make time for.